Computing is more than just sitting at a keyboard, writing lines and lines of code to create the latest blockbuster to thrill gaming geeks across the world. In fact, it’s a way of thinking logically, solving problems, and creatively – isn’t that something we all want from our pupils in school? Such skills are not new, and in this extract from June 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine (click here to see full text), James Abela gives us a quick look on the history of computing concluding that much of the computational thinking that we want to teach has been around for millennia! We are merely rediscovering it and teaching what has been lost in a decade of consumerism with closed platforms that have closed minds. (Scroll down to read article)
There is a lot of fuss at the moment about this new subject called Computing, but in fact like a lot of the world’s great inventions they have been around for a while. In fact analogue computers have been around since Greek times. The Antikythera is a complex device with about 72 gears. It was used to predict the position of the planets and stars and was also capable of predicting solar eclipses. If you want to see the history of categorisation and sorting you need to go even further back to ancient Mesopotamia where the first libraries were established.
However the art of coding is much newer, Ada Lovelace who is credited as the first coder, only published her algorithms in 1842! She was the first person to write code for Babbage’s analytical engine. Over the next century, computers evolved and during the 2nd world war, Colossus became the world’s first electronic digital programmable computer. The digital age had arrived and with it Boolean logic and the kind of logical programming that is familiar to us with modern coding experiences.
The 1960’s was also a great period for Computing and in 1967 LOGO was designed. This was different to other languages, because it was graphically oriented and in the late 1960’s supported a Turtle robot. This language is particularly important in education, because it eventually turned into Scratch.
Meanwhile, in 1964, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz created BASIC which enabled students at Dartmouth University to write simple programs. In 1975 a young Bill Gates and Paul Allen made Altair basic, which eventually became the Visual basic we love today! Students can also play with the kids’ version at https://smallbasic.com Basic inspired a generation of children in the 1980’s to learn to code on BBC Micros, ZX Spectrums or Commodore 64’s and that generation have become the wildly successful programming teams making games, designing the insides of mobile phones and working for the world’s biggest technology players.
The final ingredient that makes the modern computer so useful, is the Internet. ARPANET enabled computers to talk to each other at a distance and started operations in 1969. During the 1980’s it was possible to use computers to download files on bulletin boards and then in 1991 Tim Berners Lee outlined his World Wide Web project. It did not take long for the web to become popular and when the mosaic browser was born in 1993, it became a phenomenon that would change the world.
James Abela is a Computing teacher in Thailand. Find him at jamesabela.co.uk and @ESLweb